Monday, November 29, 2010

Exciting News and a Sleepless Night!

I love my Droid! I have it set up to sound an alert whenever I receive a Facebook message or friend request. Last night about 11 p.m. I heard an alert on my phone. I checked my Facebook and found a message from Aufhausen! (Remember the time difference between California and Germany... it was 7 a.m. in Aufhausen...)

Marianne said that her father-in-law, Ernst was the one who received a visit from Willi-Martin!! I just can't believe my luck!! I wrote her back and attached the picture of my great-grandfather's family. Now, thoughts are rushing around in my head, all the questions, all the possibilities for my trip next year. I am wide awake and don't think I'll ever get to sleep. 

About 2:30 a.m. and I am finally starting to wind down, when I hear another Facebook alert on my phone. I resisted the temptation to write her back til this morning.

She and I are now Facebook friends. I hope we can continue to write each other, so by the time I arrive in Aufhausen in May, we will already be friends. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Falkengasse Cousins?

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving. It was great to spend the day with family and enjoy all the great food. Although it wasn't Xavier's first Thanksgiving, it was the first where he was up and aware of everything. He kept us hopping!

I received a message from Willi-Martin yesterday. He spoke with the family that lives on Falkengasse, in the house where Leonhard was born. He says they are descendants of Leonhard's sister, and they are pleased to hear about my visit! What a miracle to find living relatives back in Germany!  I asked him about them, but he is busy preparing for a two week vacation to the Red Sea in Egypt so he hasn't had time to send details. 

Well, I am not one to sit around waiting and wondering... I looked at my Braun Family information in my Family Tree Maker program and Leonhard had two sisters that married and had children in my database. One sister moved to another town, and the older sister, Margaretha, stayed in Aufhausen, as did her descendants for at least three generations. So I'm thinking if they are our relatives, they are probably descendants of Margaretha. 

Margaretha had a daughter named Margaretha that married Johann Georg Reichart.  They had a son named Christoph Reichart that died in Aufhausen in 1946. He had at least two sons who survived childhood. (Many families had numerous children that died in infancy or childhood back then...) I think that it is very likely the family on Falkengasse is related to Christoph Reichart.

Soooo... I googled Reichart + Aufhausen and learned there is a city council member named  Reichart.  I Found a telephone book entry, for  Reichart in Aufhausen.  What are the chances?  I'm thinking it is very likely that these Reicharts are somehow related to, or descendant of, Christoph Reichart, which would make them my relatives! What are the chances??? Coincidence??

This morning I did a search on Facebook for these Reicharts in Germany. There is only one. In all of Facebook... She's in Germany.  So, I sent her a Facebook message in English and German, again using Google Translate :) briefly identifying myself, and asked her if she and her husband were the family that recently received a visit from a genealogist, Willi-Martin, about a relative in America.  Now, I will wait and see if I hear back from her! 

Waiting is the hardest part...  

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Waiting is the hardest part

Today is the day before Thanksgiving. Willi-Martin was supposed to visit the family that lives in Leonhard's birth home yesterday but I haven't heard from him yet. I'm so anxious to find out what happened, if they really are related to us or not. I would love to contact them before I leave. I hope they have pictures. If nothing else, I hope Willi-Martin can take a photo of the house.

Yesterday I received a very nice letter from Mrs. Löffler. I had written her a long letter several weeks ago and told her all about my plans. She even sent me a couple of pictures of herself. She doesn't look anything like I pictured her. And certainly doesn't look like she's in her 80's. She said that my hotel in Turkheim is 5 km (3 miles) from her house. I looked on Google Maps and discovered that the street she lives on intersects with Falkengasse, which is the street where Leonhard was born! What a small world it is.  I wonder if she knows the people who live in his house? I am writing her back today. 

Mrs. Löffler

I sure wish she had internet, corresponding by snail mail to Germany is very slow when you're used to instant communication online.  Too bad the telephone calls to Germany are so expensive! I sooo want to talk to her, and to Willi-Martin and find out what's going on!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Uniworld's Rhine Discovery Nuremberg to Basel, Switzerland

I'm almost as excited about the river cruise as I am about my land adventures. Nothing else could follow such an exciting week without being a huge letdown.  If you're not familiar with European river cruises, I've read that they are amazing. The "ships" are much smaller than ocean cruisers, typically 65 to 70 cabins with a maximum capacity of between 125 and 150 passengers. Imagine that! Certainly more personal than sailing with 3,000 strangers... 

The other nice thing about Uniworld's ships is that even though we will be in Europe, all of the crew speak English, the menus and other written material are in English, and the price of the cruise includes an excursion in each town with an English-Speaking tour guide.  They provide each passenger with a little headset so that regardless if you are close to the tour guide or not, you can hear everything they are saying.  You also get free time in each town after the tour to explore on your own. 

Enter Cruise Critic!!

Another website that has become my constant companion while planning this trip is a site called Cruise Critic.  They have reviews and a very active message board about everything cruise related.  One section of the message board is dedicated to river cruising. I've learned so much about river cruising from reading the messages and all of the great replies.

One of the great features of Cruise Critic is a section called Roll Calls. You can post your particular cruise ship, date and destination and see if anyone else on the board is booked on the same cruise that you are.  So I decided to give it a try. Lo and Behold, I have "met" three other ladies that will be on the same cruise as me.  

Nomi is from Toronto, Canada and will also be traveling solo. This is her second Uniworld cruise so she has been super-helpful in answering all my questions. 

Barb is from Las Vegas. She and her friend Sharon will be traveling together. Coincidentally, they were on the exact same cruise as Nomi last year, although they didn't actually meet each other on that cruise.  

We are now Facebook Friends and are planning to get together on embarkation day to go exploring Nuremberg together before the ship sets sail. It will be so nice to board knowing that I'll have friendly faces to dine with, and socialize with during my cruise!

Here's a quick rundown of the towns that we will be visiting on the cruise:

  • Day 1 - Nuremberg
  • Day 2 - Bamberg
  • Day 3 - Würzburg (with an optional afternoon excursion to Rothenburg ob der Tauber)
  • Day 4 - Miltenberg
  • Day 5 - Rüdesheim
  • Day 6 - Heidelberg
  • Day 7 - Strasbourg, France
  • Day 8 - Disembark in Basel Switzerland and fly home

So that's it for now! We're completely up to date until Tuesday when I hear from Willi-Martin on his meeting with the residents of Leonhard's birth home on Falkengasse. 

Adventures in the Land of Baden-Württemberg

I've spent nearly three months researching and studying and planning my trip to Germany. As of right now, I think I'm about 95% there. Here's a quick overview of what I'll be doing. If you haven't already done so, I would suggest you go back and read my previous posts to bring you up to speed on how we got to this point!

  • May 1 - depart from Sacramento, arriving in Stuttgart the following morning about 9:45 a.m.
  • May 2 - Tour of Ludwigsburg Palace with Hans and Shorik from Heilbronn, after which I'll drive to Turkheim, the small town near Aufhausen where my hotel is located.
  • May 2-6 - booked in a small Landgasthof (guest house, sort of like a Bed & Breakfast) in Turkheim. This building is over 400 years old! (Incidentally, the young men that traveled to America with Leonhard were from Turkheim, so I'm fairly sure he must've spent time here!)
  • May 3 - Willi-Martin and I will go to the church in Aufhausen to meet the Reverend and Mrs.Löffler, and  look at the church records. In the evening we will go see the house where Leonhard was born, and hopefully, meet some new relatives! 
  • May 4 - We will visit the villages where my ancestors lived and view the church records. Afterward, Willi-Martin and his wife have invited me to their house for dinner! 
  • May 5 - We will visit an open-air museum that depicts life in 19th century Germany. This will give me a great feel for what life was like for Leonhard and his family. After the museum, we're going to Ulm to see the tallest church steeple in the world! 
  • May 6 - I will drive back to Ulm to turn in my rental car and take the train to Nuremberg. After checking into my hotel, I am hoping to take a quick tour of the old town. (So far on my journey, this will be the only day that I will be completely on my own!)
  • May 7 - I check out of my hotel and go to the port to board the River Countess for my 7 day River Cruise down the Rhine River! After dropping off my bags, we'll have some free time to explore Nuremberg before the ship sets sail at 5:00 p.m. (Notice I say "We" will have some free time...)  

Willi-Martin discovers Falkengasse (Miracle #4)

Up til now, I have been so lucky the way things have been unfolding with my trip. First, a friend hooks me up with friends of hers that live in Germany who offer to pick me up at the airport and show me around Stuttgart. Then, the Reverend of the church where Leonhard's family attended in the mid 19th century arranges for a wonderful parishoner who wants to accompany me and translate. Then, we discover that the Chairperson of the local genealogy society is a distant cousin! Can things get any better than that? Read on and see...

About the time that I was in Salt Lake City, researching at the Family History Library, my new found cousin made a visit to the city archive in Geislingen an der Steige, where all the old parish records are kept.  With the assistance of the city archivist, Willi-Martin was able to go back in the village records and track down the exact house where my great-great grandfather, Leonhard was born! He said the street names had changes several times in the past 175 years, but they were able to track the name changes and found the street, and the house, which still exists!

The name of the street is Falkengasse. I tried to take a peak on Google Maps but it doesn't zoom close enough to see the actual buildings, just an arial view. Willi-Martin even thinks that the descendants of one of Leonhard's older sister still lives in the house.  I'm not sure how he figured this out, unless he was able to trace the ownership of the property. I'll have to ask him...

So Willi-Martin made a visit to the church in Aufhausen, and met with Rev. Reich-Bochtler and Mrs. Löffler about my visit.  He has an appointment on Tuesday, November 23rd, to visit the family that lives on Falkengasse to confirm if we are related, and hopefully make arrangements for me to visit with them in May!

Genealogy Association in Geislingen an der Steige and a new cousin

Aufhausen is a small village within the city of Geislingen an der Steige. My next step was to try and find a local genealogy group that could point me in the right direction for places to research during my visit. Back in October, I was able to locate the website for the "Working Group for Genealogy and Family Research Geislingen/Steige", the equivalent of our local genealogy society. The website had contact information for the Association Chairperson, Willi-Martin  Jäger. 

Again using my trusty Google Translate, I sent off an email to Mr. Jäger. I told him that I was interested in coming to Germany to research Leonhard's family, and asked for recommendations for what and where I should research.  I received a nice email from him, which included information on Leonhard's parents and siblings that he obtained from the local family register book. He mentioned that he also had Braun ancestors and pondered if we could be related. 

Meantime I took a short research trip to the Mormon Family History Library in Salt Lake City, and found several more generations of Braun ancestors. Turns out Leonhard's maternal great-grandmother, Anna Staudenmaier, lived in the town of Gussenstadt, which happens to be the same town that Mr.Jäger resides.  So when I got home, I emailed him to give him this new information. 

The next day, I received an email from him, excitedly saying that we are RELATED!  He sent me his direct ancestral line, and my direct ancestral line, and it turns out that he is also a Staudenmaier descendant! 

 Incidentally, during my research online several months ago, I had come across a website that Willi-Martin had created about ten years ago documenting his ancestry. I went back to that website after we discovered this, and sure enough, I found my newly discovered ancestors in his family tree! 

We have determined that we are 7th cousins, once removed, and are now Facebook Friends, as well!

The Church that Leonhard Attended (Miracle #2)

The village of Aufhausen has a population of 950 inhabitants. They will be celebrating their 1150th anniversary in 2010. Yep, that's not a typo, folks. There are buildings in the old town that are over 600 years old, including Leonhard's church! 

I learned from the parish register that Leonhard's family was Evangelische (protestant). So I found the website for the Evangelische church in Aufhausen and sent off an email to the Reverend at the address listed on the website. 

Rev. Reich-Bochtler wrote me back and told me to contact the city archive and the local genealogy research group to get information on researching my ancestors. She then took a peak in the church books and found Leonhard's family, and sent me some information about his family! 

I asked her if she had any parishoners that were involved in family history that might be able to accompany me to the archives to help with translations.  One of the ladies in the church, Mrs. Löffler, heard about my venture, and offered her services!  Mrs. Löffler is in her 80's, worked as a Secretary in Malaysia for 30 years, and apparently speaks fluent English and according to the Reverend, she is "simply the best. Very polite and has many connections".  

So my luck continues! I have companionship not only in Stuttgart, but now the assistance of Aufhausen's finest, to keep me out of trouble during my adventure. 

Stuttgart! My first lucky break :)

After much pondering, I decided to fly into Stuttgart, which is less than an hour's drive to Aufhausen, the village where my ancestors lived. I excitedly described my plans to some of my friends on my clogging team that week at practice. Susie, one of the dancers on my team, mentioned that she and her husband had some good friends, Hans and Shorik, that live in Heilbronn, which is near Stuttgart. She contacted them and told them about my visit, and they not only were able to spend some time with me, but offered to meet me at the airport and assist me with getting my rental car and a hotel for my first night in Germany! What a lucky break is that? 

As I began researching all the museums, castles and other historical places of interest in Stuttgart, I realized that ALL of them happen to be closed on Mondays, which is the day that I planned to be in Stuttgart!!  Back to the message boards I went.... if you're ever planning a trip and have questions, I highly recommend a site called Virtual Tourist. There are members from all over the world that post pictures, reviews, tips and respond to all sorts of questions about their areas of interest.  

One of the members suggested a place called Ludwigsburg Palace. I hopped online and quickly learned that Ludwigsburg is about halfway between Stuttgart and Heilbronn, where Hans and Shorik live. AND, the Palace has an English-speaking tour every afternoon INCLUDING Mondays! 
So as of now, Hans and Shorik will be coming to Stuttgart by train to meet me at the airport (Germany's rail system is supposed to be amazingly efficient). After retrieving my rental car, we'll drive to Ludwigsburg to visit the Palace. Then they will hop back on the train for Heilbronn, and I will hop on the autobahn (eegads!) and head for Aufhausen! 

I'm gonna do it!

I'm going to Germany! Yep, I made the decision to finally take the trip of a lifetime. I should've started this blog when I first decided, so I'm going to try and recap how we got to where we are now. 

It all started back in September when I got an AAA magazine in the mail and saw an advertisement for a river cruise down the Rhine River. For some reason it grabbed my attention and I started reading about the river cruises in Germany. It seemed to be a great way to see the country without having to pack and unpack every day on a land tour. 
Uniworld's River Countess
Maximum # passengers - 134!!

My niece Jenny and I had talked many times about traveling to Germany so I asked my sister if Jenny could come with me, but that didn't work out. I tried my best to convince my husband Michael to go, but he wasn't interested. So it seemed, I would either give up on my dream, or go it alone! I started researching river cruises and found a few great message board sites with tons of information. I read and re-read all the posts and found that it is not uncommon to find solo cruisers on these ships, and that it seemed to be a fairly safe way for someone to see the country alone. So I decided to go ahead and go it alone. 

So I found a cruise that embarks from Nuremberg, which is reasonably close to the part of Germany where my ancestors lived. I decided to go a week early and spend some time researching and visiting the towns and villages where they lived, then ride the famous German Rail to Nuremberg. 

Back to the Beginning

I began researching my family history in about 1995 when someone in the family told me that we were related to Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church. My mission was to prove, or disprove this family tale. Back in those days, the internet was fairly new, and there was not much available online for genealogists. Researching my family history became my passion, and one of my goals (i.e., my Bucket List) was to travel to all of the places where my ancestors lived. (Oh, and by the way, we are NOT related to Joseph Smith!)

I learned that my paternal 2nd Great Grandfather, Leonhard Braun, emigrated from a small village called Aufhausen, part of the city of Geislingen an der Steige in the Kingdom of Württemberg (now a State in Germany) in 1853, at the age of 17. So naturally, a visit to his homeland has been at the top of my Bucket List for many years.

circa 1896 - Great Grandfather, Robert Smith Brown 
(son of immigrant ancestor Leonhard Braun)
and Great Grandmother Ida E. (Pace) Brown. 
The child sitting in the chair is my grandfather, Fred Brown. 
The child on R.S.Brown's lap is grandad's twin brother, Ed.